By Marlon Ramos
Then First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, then Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and whoever was the Philippine National Police chief were known as the “Three Kings” of the Arroyo administration who received regular protection money from operators of “jueteng” in Pangasinan, said a town mayor who turned whistle-blower.
Bugallon Mayor Rodrigo Orduña said the husband of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the secretary of the interior and local government (DILG) and the PNP head made up the triumvirate protecting the operations of the multibillion-peso illegal numbers racket in the previous administration.
“In our plantilla, we set aside and send regular payoffs to the ‘Three Kings.’ They are FG (Arroyo), DILG (Puno) and whoever is the PNP chief,” Orduña told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview.
In previous congressional hearings on jueteng, the mayor said “plantilla” had also been referred to as “blue book,” which contained a list of personalities receiving regular “pakinabang” (payola) from illegal gambling syndicates.
“We also gave a portion of our daily collections to the CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the PNP) and members of the media, both local and national,” he said.
P30B a year
Former Archbishop Oscar Cruz, an antijueteng crusader, said in September 2010, that Puno and the then recently retired PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa each received between P5 million and P8 million a month in jueteng payola.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said at the time that the annual collections of jueteng operators had reached P30 billion, due to a conspiracy between the interior secretary and the police chief.
“They are the prime beneficiaries and ultimate protectors of jueteng,” Santiago said.
Orduña surfaced last week and disclosed the alleged involvement of his erstwhile boss and political ally, Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr., in the proliferation of jueteng in the province.
The mayor has filed plunder charges against Espino, a retired police officer, who he said received a total of P900 million in protection money from the operators of the illegal numbers racket.
Orduña said Espino started receiving protection money when he served as police director of Pangasinan in 1988.
The mayor said he had personal knowledge of Espino’s role in jueteng operations in Pangasinan because he himself had delivered the governor’s weekly take from jueteng.
But the mayor admitted that he never saw Arroyo, Puno and any of the PNP chiefs during the Arroyo administration receiving the protection money amounting to millions of pesos.
“The money was just given to the collectors who, in turn, delivered them to the Three Kings,” he said.
Orduña said he “assumed” that the trio were getting their share from the illicit numbers racket because the police did not raid his group’s jueteng dens.
Sought for comment, Arroyo’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, dismissed the accusations against his client as a “baseless finger-pointing and blame-laying.”
In an e-mailed statement, Topacio said: “It is regrettable that once again, without any proof other than the say-so of certain individuals … the name of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo is being linked to illicit activities.”
He said Orduña’s claim that Arroyo had benefited from jueteng payoffs “is not
only utterly lacking in factual bases, but is malicious and downright criminal.”
“It besmirches the name of Arroyo, whose name has been endlessly maligned but whose involvement in any illegal activity has yet to be proven in any proceedings in his entire life,” Topacio said.
“All this guilt by association and baseless finger-pointing and blame-laying has to stop,” he added.
Topacio dared Orduña to present evidence against Arroyo “instead of wasting time and energy making up fantasies.” The Inquirer sought the side of Puno but was not able to reach him.
Mikey, Iggy, too
This was not the first time that Arroyo and other members of his once-powerful family were implicated in illegal gambling.
In June 2005, jueteng “bagwoman” Sandra Cam went public and accused Arroyo’s son, then Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, and brother, the late Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, of receiving jueteng money.
Cam testified in the Senate that she herself personally handed P500,000 in protection money to Mikey as his share from jueteng operations in the Bicol region.
She said she was ordered by Chief Supt. Restituto Mosqueda, then the police chief in the region, to deliver the money to Mikey and his uncle. Orduña acknowledged that aside from the plantilla, he could not provide any material evidence proving the link of Arroyo, Puno and the former PNP chiefs to jueteng activities.
Always in cash
He said the payola for the top government officials was “always in cash as required by them and their collectors.”
“They are not that stupid to leave evidence which could be used against them,” the mayor said.
He said he could not recall the name of the collectors of the trio since it was Fernando “Boy Bata” Alimagno and other operators who handed over the cash to them.
Orduña said he decided to come out and speak against Espino “to end the reign of the evil” who, he said, had been running the Pangasinan capitol “as if he were god.”
The mayor said he was prepared to face the consequences of his actions, including a possible appearance in the Senate and the House of Representatives if lawmakers would initiate another congressional investigation of jueteng.
Both chambers conducted a number of hearings on the illegal numbers game in the past but these did not end jueteng operations in the country.
“I have prepared my self for this. I’m not afraid of Governor Espino,” Orduña said firmly. “But I will only speak about what I know. I can only testify about jueteng in Pangasinan.” Orduña expressed confidence that his disclosures would prompt the national government to curb jueteng operations in the country.
“I’m up against our governor unlike in the past when the whistle-blowers were fighting powerful government officials,” he said.
He said he was hoping that the government would recognize his sacrifices, provide him and other whistle-blowers “protection and help us stamp out jueteng in Pangasinan.”
It is usually the poor who place bets in jueteng, which is played mainly in Luzon.